The Arioniad – Season 1 Finale and Retrospective

One thing I forgot to do last night was check Arion for recovery. I’m assuming that Dmitri and Coriander returned after Schrodinger and his minions left, taking the cats with them, and that the cats hadn’t got around to eating Arion at that point; so his sidekicks picked up the pieces and carried him back to the Dolphin for surgery. (I’m going to change my mind about the Dolphin and set it as Arion’s home; I’ll worry about what that does to recruiting later.) I roll 3d6 vs 4 (it would be 2d6, but Stars get an extra die): 1, 3, 6 = pass 2d6. Checking the table on p. 55, Arion recovers all lost Rep, so he’s back to Rep 4.

After about 20 scenes under Larger Than Life, and a couple under Mythic Roleplaying, I’m reflecting on the pros and cons of each.

Both LTL and Mythic use dice to generate the story, though the player/GM puts the story’s flesh on the skeleton erected by the random tables. Mythic is deliberately intended to create surprises, and can take the narrative off in any direction; LTL, like the pulps it strives to emulate, uses a set formula to unfold the story. That makes it easier for me to understand and to run, by creating a more structured framework; I can see that eventually this might get repetitive, but so far I have no problem with it. Within the tighter structure, though, LTL is more elegant and easier to play; it has more tables to reference, but paradoxically this feels easier and faster to do, at least for me. This is nothing against Mythic, which is a fine idea well executed; but since most of my games wind up as pulp adventure even if they don’t start out there, a game focussed on recreating that genre is simply a better fit to what I do.

On the down side, LTL‘s story engine is too slow-moving for my taste – on average luck, a beginning Star needs about 25-30 scenes to reach the climactic battle; a dozen Story Advancing Scenes, a dozen Travel scenes, an Initial Scene, a Final Scene and the Big Bad’s Revenge. However, there is an easy fix; count each clue as a +2 on the advance the story table rather than a +1.

For a number of reasons, all matters of personal taste, I will probably replace the skills, attributes and character advancement of LTL with those from Savage Worlds. Partly this is because I like them more, partly it’s to maintain compatibility with my other campaigns; it’s simple enough to do, just halve the die type and take that as the level for LTL – for example, Fighting d8 would become Melee 4; no Fighting skill at all would default in SW to d4-2, which would effectively be level 1 for LTL, as it is that game’s default. Rep most closely equates to Spirit, I think, with Brawn being split into Agility, Strength and Vigour, Brains being Smarts, and Bravado being Spirit as well.

While I found LTL‘s combats much more fun on the tabletop than in the abstract, even while being comprehensively smacked silly by the bad guys, it is an advantage that much of LTL can be done without miniatures and scenery. Out of a couple of dozen scenes, maybe 3-4 would have been done as tabletop skirmishes had I been playing it properly. I never tried the Mythic combat system, as I was intentionally using it as a GM emulator layered over another game, in my case Savage Worlds. LTL‘s combat system is a variant of the standard Two Hour Wargames reaction system, which probably deserves its own review at some point. Ranged and melee combat use different mechanics, which is fine; melee has been deliberately extended into multiple rounds of combat to increase tension, but I want something faster-moving here too, and adopted a suggestion from the Yahoo! Group, namely just counting passes from the first round of dice rolling. It works, and it’s faster.

Overall, LTL is billed as “all about the story”; and I found myself caring about the characters, eager to take Schrodinger down, and ready to move on to season 2. I’m already planning map changes, story arcs for the sequel(s), and other uses for the game engine. I’ll be coming back to this one; but meanwhile, All Things Zombie beckons for the next few months of evening entertainment.

The Arioniad – Scenes 23 and 24

The story seems to be reaching a natural end; I’m happy with it, and see no need to prolong it with a hunt for more clues, so I’ll move straight to the Final Scene. Since the Star’s mission was to find an artefact, we find the Big Bad wherever the object is; that’s my choice, so I’ll pick something I have “scenery for” – namely the Demonworld maps mentioned in an earlier post.
In addition to his group (himself and Dmitri), Arion may spend local recruiting points (i.e. his Rep – 4) to buy more characters from the Local Authorities list. Why not; they’re only one point each. I roll 2d6 on the local authorities table (p. 20) and get a 9; 1-3 officers with modern weapons, Rep 4 and no star power. That’ll be one of them, then. Next I roll an 8; more of the same. Another one. Next a 12, giving me one Rep 3 rookie. Finally a 9 for more officers, and there can be only one because I only have one RP left. So in total, three Rep 4 and one Rep 3 enforcers. Because I have just been watching The Penguins of Madagascar I mentally tag them as Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private (he’s the Rep 3 one, obviously).

There is a thunderclap, and four armed men suddenly appear at Arion’s back. He turns around, and starts to open his mouth to ask obvious questions; but the leader of the group nods to Coriander, and says brusquely: “We’re telepaths. She’s a telepath. We can teleport. You work it out.”

Arion closes his mouth and draws his pistol.

How many are there in the opposition? I roll 1d6 + Big Bad’s Rep (12)… actually I don’t because that’s going to generate the maximum score of 11+ whatever I do. The King Beast and company have twice the total Rep of Arion’s group, which has five Rep 4 and two Rep 3 for a total of 26; evildoers to the tune of 52 Rep, this is going to sting a bit. The King Beast accounts for 12 of that. I decide it wouldn’t be a proper finale without Schrodinger, the Shaman; he has Rep 6, taking the bad guys to 18. Rolling on the King Beast table on p. 19, I get a 2 – another King Beast, why not. Then a 6 – 1d6 warriors, 5 of them at Rep 4 each; the Gimirri have come out to play. That takes us up to 50 Rep on their side. Next a 6; more warriors, three of them, but I’ll only take one as that is when they first exceed the target Rep. Total: Two king beasts, one shaman, and six warriors, total 54 Rep.

Arion and his compadres move onto the table to find Schrodinger at a ruined altar atop a small knoll. He holds a fist-sized green emerald aloft; he is flanked by a Dinobastis of prodigious size, and a group of half a dozen Gimirri with their trademark long knives form a professional-looking defensive perimeter around him.

“The Gimirri go after those things with knives?” says Dmitri. “They’re tougher than I thought.”

Schrodinger turns towards them, throws his head back, and laughs.

“Excellent! You’ve brought a sacrifice for my beauties, or should I say a snack? Behold the Eye of the Cat; as prophesied in the Green Book of the Gimirri, I am now the Master of Two Beasts!” The Gimirri make a ritual gesture with their knives, and move to place themselves between Schrodinger and the adventurers.

“You are honoured, Arion, Dmitri! You have a place in history forever now! For you shall be the first to fall before the new order! Kill them, my beauties, and feast on the fallen!” He gestures the Dinobastis forward.

Fig. 1: Just after setup.

Fig. 1 shows the scene at the end of setup. The bad guys took an In Sight test, passed 1d6 on the Military table, and would have fired except they have no guns. Schrodinger passed 2d6, and would have fired using attack magic, except he has no line of sight to our heroes. The beast passes 2d6 (it’s hard not to, with Rep 12) and charges. I’m using one hex = 1″ for this game, but a fast-moving, charging King Beast moves 48″. It surges into melee against Skipper; I’ll spare you the grisly details, but it passed 6 more dice than he did, so Skipper is Out Of the Fight. That makes everyone else take a Crisis test; Arion chooses to pass 2d6 and carries on, Rico and Kowalski pass 1d6 but because they are not alone they carry one, Dmitri and Coriander both Duck Back so run into the nearest cover – a group of trees directly behind the giant cat, which as you can see is proxied by a stapler. Fig. 2 shows the situation at the end of the initial In Sight tests and subsequent carnage.

Fig. 2: Skipper falls to the mighty stapler... errm, sorry, King Beast.

Turn 1 proper now begins. Schrodinger activates first, and another Gimirri and a second beast enter the table; the beast marches to the sound of the gums, as it were. Dmitri and Coriander take an In Sight test, he would shoot but has no gun, and she halts in place. Sensible girl. Arion and the local LEOs open fire, because I reasoned that this would force a crisis test which might make the beast flee; but I forgot it would automatically pass 2d6 with Rep 12, and it charges. Fortunately for the figures I lost track of that in the excitement, so it continued to worry Skipper’s remains. Private now enters the board and moves up to his colleagues; that forces an In Sight test for the new beast, which charges, passes a frightening number of melee dice, and Private goes OOF. Arion, Rico and Kowalski take a crisis test for seeing Private munched, shift position and open fire; what with all the dice, they manage to score two hits, but the Dinobastis has Star Power 6 and shrugs them off. However, it rolls a number of sixes and loses some Star Power dice; we’re wearing it down. Just as well, actually, because if we had wounded it, it would have passed 2d6 on its crisis test and gone Ferocious. Damn, these things are tough.

Schrodinger and the Gimirri feel no need to move off their nice, safe knoll and are taking bets on how long the intruders will last.

Dmitri and Coriander activate next, and fast move to the next little copse. I figure if I can sneak them around behind Schrodinger and use the Challenge mechanic to get the Eye of the Cat off him, I can turn the Dinobastis on the Gimirri. A long shot, but we’re running out of options fast. Arion and the LEOs fire at the beast, scoring a couple of hits, but it uses Star Power to soak them up, albeit losing some more dice to sixes as it goes. The beast takes a crisis test for being shot at and charges into melee, passing 8d6 more than its opponents – and in LTL those successes apply equally against all enemies in the melee. Rico and Kowalski go Out Of the Fight. Arion saves against numerous painful cuts thanks to his Star Power. Fig. 3 shows the situation as Arion stares down two Dinobastis, the second one represented by a handy clock.

Fig. 3: "Bein' big is only gonna buy you time, slug bait."

Turn 2, and things are already looking pretty bad. Both Dinobastis claw at Arion and he goes down, not even Star Power can save him this time. Dmitri and Coriander see which way the wind is blowing and fast move towards the nearest table edge.

Turn 3, and while the Dinobastis tuck in to psi-cop on the bone, Dmitri and Coriander slip off the table and into the surrounding jungle, hoping that there will still be enough of Arion left for the ship’s autodoc to heal up by the time they can sneak back to recover him.

“Game over, man!” wails Dmitri. “Game over!”

Fig. 4: "All right then, we'll call it a draw."

But wait… the Big Bad now takes his Final Revenge! Since the Big Bad has Rep 12, he automatically passes 2d6 on the Final Revenge table, and automatically scores 12+ on the Vengeance Is Mine table, both on p.57. Arion suffers a crippling injury, and recovers at -2 Rep; his Rep is now 2.

After all that I feel Arion deserves to roll for advancement (p. 16). I roll 1d6 for Rep and Star Power; a roll of 2 for Rep fails to exceed even his current measly level, and so there is no improvement. Likewise for Star Power. He can also roll to advance any skill used during the adventure; I make that First Aid (roll of 6), Melee (3) and Shooting (2) – Arion’s First Aid increases to 5, and his Melee to 3. I think we’ll hang on to Coriander and promote her to Love Interest for the next session, if and when that happens.

Interior, day: The sick bay aboard the Dolphin.

“He’s awake,” says Coriander. Dmitri wanders over and sits on the end of the bed. “How are you doing?” he asks.

“I’ve been better,” Arion admits, from inside an improbably large set of casts and bandages. “But you should see the other guy. I don’t suppose you managed to take down Schrodinger or get the Eye back?” Shaken heads and downcast glances are answer enough.

“Well then, I suppose Schrodinger gets his seat on the Council. We’ll have to do something about that. Just as soon as I get out of these bandages…”

And there we shall leave Arion and company for the moment. Lessons learned: We’re going to need bigger guns… and, I really have to learn how to use this camera properly.

The Arioniad – Scenes 21-22

I have resisted my usual urge to meddle with the rules manfully, but now I’m starting to give in to it. I want the adventure to go faster, so I am going to count each clue achieved twice for purposes of advancing the story. So, our next Story Advancing Scene is 1d6 (6) + Rep (4) + clues solved (doubled, so now 8 rather than 4) = 18. Find an object.

Is the Big Bad here? 1d6 vs 1: 6, definitely not. Daytime? 1d6 vs 3: 3, so yes. Difficulty: lower of 2d6, no modifiers: 1, 3 so 1. Arion rolls 2d6 vs Rep (4): 4, 5 = pass 1d6. Object rolls 2d6 vs 1: 3, 3 = pass 0d6. I consult the Search For Thing Table (p. 35) and discover Arion finds the object, but suffers Complications.

Our heroes enter a clearing and pause for breath. Arion gently lowers Coriander to the ground, checks her for injury, and gives her some water from a canteen.

Here I roll 2d6 vs 3 (Coriander’s Rep) on the Recovery Test (p. 55). It took me quite a while to find that in the rules, so take note of the page number. 2, 6 = pass 1d6. It says “Wounded characters recover all lost Rep except one.” Well, Coriander was hit by a Mk 1 fist, so she didn’t lose any Rep. We’ll call that recovered, then. No, I don’t know where the canteen came from either, it just seemed like he should have one.

Coriander stirs, and sits up, holding her head.

“Hold still,” says Arion, looking at her bruises. And probably her bumps as well. “Can you walk?” he asks. She nods, and taking his hand, rises to her feet.

“Where are we going?” asks Dmitri.

“This way,” says Arion, moving off.

“True, but not helpful,” Dmitri points out. Coriander leans close to him and says, under her breath, “No, he doesn’t have a clue where he’s going. But one way is as good as another, we need to keep moving or they’ll find us.”

“I heard that,” Arion calls back over one shoulder. The others hurry to catch up.

After a while, the group comes upon a statue of a cat, half-buried and covered in vines.

“Is that what the giant cats look like?” asks Dmitri.

“Yes,” says Coriander. “Except they’re usually more giant. But, it’s a good likeness.”

I now move to Solving the Clue (p. 35). Difficulty: Lower of 2d6, no modifiers: 2, 3 so 2. Arion now rolls 3d6 (4 for his Rep, less 1 for complications) vs 3: 3, 6, 6 = pass 1d6. The object rolls 2d6 vs 3: 3, 4 = pass 1d6. Since both passed the same number of dice, Arion rolls 1d6 vs Star Power (2): 6, so he cannot figure out the meaning of the clue.

Arion pulls off vines, pokes and prods in an attempt to find some sort of concealed compartment or secret lever, looks at the markings chiselled into the stone, and at length stands back and mops his brow.

“Just as I thought,” he says. “I have no idea what this means. Coriander, you live here; do you know anything about statues like this?”

“No,” she admits. “Not that will help us, anyway.”

The trio move off, deeper into the jungle.

Might as well roll for the next story advancing scene: 1d6 (3) + Rep (4) + clues solved (4 x 2 = 8): 15. Find an object again. But first there is another travel scene; to a lost world in a tramp steamer, no encounter. The tramp steamer has no passengers, but a crew of 11. That’s too complicated for me tonight, so…

Emerging into yet another clearing, Arion and company behold a Free Trader starship, landed hard enough to buckle the undercarriage, but not actually crashed, and partly overgrown with vegetation.

“Anyone home?” calls Arion. There is no reply, so he moves forwards towards the port side cargo hatch, which has burst open with the force of the landing.

Coriander concentrates for a moment. “There’s no-one here,” she calls. The three squeeze inside, and examine their surroundings. A dozen or so skeletons in Gimirri uniforms are tossed around inside like broken dolls. Obsolete weapons litter the deck. There are ancient bloodstains, and deep gouges in the walls where something with very big claws took a dislike to the occupants.

“Looks like this is not the first time someone tried to capture a Dinobastis,” Arion says. “Maybe I get can this thing flying again; that’d beat walking through this jungle.” He taps a nearby instrument panel. “Lights, so the power plant must still be good.” He disappears towards the flight deck.

Cut to an exterior shot, of the ship powering up, struggling against the vines which have begun to cover it, and eventually lifting off. It staggers through the air, with a pronounced list to starboard, and small pieces falling off it as it goes.

The Arioniad – Scenes 19-20

My goal was to finish this adventure by the end of March, so I’d best be about it. Scene 19 is a travel scene, and I can see that once in a Lost World, the Star tends to stay there. Rolls of 2 and 6 for location and transport mean movement towards another Lost World on foot, so again we stay in the current location. A roll of 1 for encounters means there is one, though; a followup roll of 3 shows we’re being followed, and there will be a stand-up fight before we reach the destination. That’ll be scene 20. Scene 21 will be a Story Advancing Scene.

Working my way through the Setting the Scene section starting on p. 40, I find that the fight is in rough, mountainous terrain, so line of sight is 12″ and movement is halved. Arion’s group consists of himself and Dmitri, both Rep 4, and Coriander, Rep 3; total 11. 1d6 + clues solved (4) + Big Bad’s Rep (6) = 12, so the enemy has a total of 11 Rep as well. Rolling on the King Beast table I get an 8, for 2d6 villagers; there are 10 of them at Rep 3 each, but this is limited to four because that’s the largest number at which they start to exceed the Rep of Arion’s troupe. Time of day? 1d6 vs 3: 1, daytime. There are no innocent bystanders possible. Leaders begin 1d6 + 6″ apart – in this case 11″ – with followers within 12″ of them. Looking up villagers, I see they have no weapons or combat skills worth the mention.

Strolling through the hills, our little troupe emerges into a clearing.

“We’re being followed,” Coriander says. “They’re circling around us to get the drop on us. They’lll come out over there.”

The group disports themselves accordingly, and sure enough, a group of local villagers emerges into the clearing, somewhat surprised to find Arion and friends facing them.

Like much of LTL, this doesn’t seem worth setting up a table for, so I go straight to the dice. No-one has any guns. We now move to the Gain the Upper Hand table, and I adopt a strategy discussed on the THW Yahoo! Group for speeding up tests, namely to decide the outcome based on the first round without discarding failures and rerolling until only one side has successes.

Arion rolls 4d6 vs 3: 3, 4, 4, 6 and passes 1d6. The lead villager rolls 3d6 vs 3: 1, 2, 3 and passes 3d6. The villagers charge into melee, and Arion’s group may not fire. Even if they had guns. We’ll go with one group each. This is a melee where almost everyone will roll 1d6 (the default for unskilled) except Arion, who will roll 2d6.

“Kill the Psions!” yells one of the villagers. They make threatening gestures and edge forwards.

Turn 1: Arion activates, the villagers do not. Arion & Co. fast move into melee, the second the villagers think about charging. Unfortunately Arion rolls 5, 6; passes 0d6; and no additional movement is gained. Dmitri passes 2d6 and moves 16″. Coriander passes 1d6 and moves 9″.

Arion charges, yelling a fierce war cry and waving clawed hands at the villagers. The effect is somewhat spoiled when he trips over a tree root and plants his face in the dirt.

“I meant to do that,” he calls back over his shoulder.

“It’s amazing he’s reached this age without killing himself,” Coriander notes as she walks past Arion, who is now scrambling to his feet.

“You have no idea,” says Dmitri, hurtling past both of them and punching a villager.

And you thought Arion was reckless. Has Dmitri learned nothing from his previous drubbing? He rolls a 4, the villager rolls a 2, wounding him; but because this is unarmed combat, his Rep is not reduced by one (p. 51). Dmitri now takes the Dazed/Wounded Crisis Test on the Law Enforcement table; 2d6 vs Rep (4): 1, 2 so pass 2d6 – recovers when next active.

The villager sways aside with insulting ease and Dmitri goes sprawling, whereupon the villager kicks him in the ribs. Dmitri shakes his head and struggles to stand up.

Turn 2: The villagers activate and Our Heroes do not. Everyone gets one villager, except Arion who gets two (it’s Star magnetism). Dmitri’s opponent wounds him again, but he passes 2d6 on his Crisis Test and will recover when next active. Coriander and her opponent both pass 0d6, but the villager rolls higher so he wounds her; she rolls on the Civilian Crisis Table, passes 1d6 and is Out Of the Fight. Arion’s 2d6 are reduced to 1d6 because he faces an additional enemy. Both villagers pass 1d6 and he passes 0d6; this would give him two wounds, but he has Star Power 2, so rolls 2d6 vs 3: 1, 3 and ignores both.

A confused melee erupts. The villager engaging Dmitri continues to kick him while he’s down; Coriander and a second villager swing inexpertly at each other, and Coriander goes down.

Turn 3: Nobody activates. Turn 4: Arion & Co activate, the villagers do not. Arion is again smacked about but uses Star Power to soak the wound. Dmitri wounds his opponent, who rolls on the Civilian Crisis Table, passes 1d6 and is OOF. I decide that the villagers are not within 2″ of each other so this won’t trigger a crisis test (I can work this out from movement, but actually setting up the table would have been useful after all.)

Dmitri heaves himself erect and kicks his opponent in return, somewhere painful. The villager curls up around himself and loses interest in the proceedings. Arion is bruised and bloodied, but still standing.

Turn 5: Both sides activate. Coriander’s former enemy shifts to attack Arion. Arion passes 1d6, his opponents pass 0d6, 1d6 and 1d6 respectively, so one is wounded; his Crisis Test puts him OOF. Dmitri piles in from behind the villagers, passes 0d6 but doesn’t score higher. However, the three remaining villagers are all fighting Arion hand-to-hand, so must be within 2″ of each other; the OOF triggers a crisis test. One passes 1d6 and ducks back; the other passes 0d6, so would run away if alone, but instead ducks back – they both move directly towards the nearest cover and break line of sight.

The fight continues. Another villager goes down. The remaining two look at each other, back away, and turn to run into the undergrowth.

Turn 6: Arion activates, villagers do not. He moves to his fallen companion with the intent of rendering her Taken Off Stage (p. 54).

“Dmitri!” Arion calls, moving to Coriander and stooping to pick her up. “We! Are! Leaving!”

Turn 7: Neither side activates. Turn 8: Arion activates, villagers do not. How useful it is to have a higher Rep. I’m out of time for the evening, so we’ll call that a night – strictly speaking the villagers should have a chance to follow up and smack them around some more, but I rationalise this as the miscreants not wanting to make things worse – they have their own wounded to tend to.

Arion gathers up Coriander, and jogs purposefully from the field of battle, with Dmitri acting as rearguard.

Lessons learned: This turned out to be a useful session, as I now understand how melee works – there were a couple of things I thought were broken, but in fact are not. Thanks to the Yahoo! Group for explaining the default melee skill. The other thing I didn’t understand was how Melee 0 characters with no weapons could actually hurt one another, but this happens when wounds force a crisis test. Also, I should use the two blokes as a meat shield to screen Coriander so she can use her Magic skill to mess up the opposition.

Review of Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition by Pinnacle Entertainment Group

It occurred to me that while I’ve reviewed several settings for Savage Worlds, I have yet to review the game itself – so let’s fix that. You can download the trial version here. Initially I started down the fast and furious route for play by email games, where simple, elegant rules work better; but I liked SW so much that it has now replaced everything else in my RPG stable, bar occasional games of D&D 4E by audience request. It did this mainly because of the speed with which I can convert items from other games for use with SW.

In a nutshell: Multi-genre roleplaying game with elegant mechanics, fast and simple to setup or play.

Format: 160-page perfect-bound softback book, or PDF file. PDF edition has both print-friendly and full-colour versions. You’ll also need a deck of playing cards, some counters to represent “bennies” and several sets of polyhedral dice – d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12 are used frequently, and d20 from time to time. The game is intended to be played with figures on a battlemat or tabletop, but works equally well without.

The rules are divided into an introduction, seven chapters and an example scenario: Characters (34 pages), Gear (14 pages), Game Rules (24 pages), Arcane Backgrounds (14 pages), Situational Rules (27 pages), Game Mastering (14 pages), Villains & Monsters (18 pages). I add the page counts so that you can see the rough proportion of the book taken up with each topic, which I find shows what the system emphasises for any game. In this case it tells me that the main focus is on character creation and development, which is what one would expect for an RPG.

Characters: Character creation follows a point build approach rather than random generation. There are five attributes, 15 skills, and dozens of Edges and Hindrances. All of the attributes and skills are rated in die types (“My character has d8 Strength”, for instance). Edges grant your character some sort of advantage, such as adding two to your die roll for some tasks, and Hindrances make life more difficult for him, such as reducing his chances of persuading people; for this reason Edges cost points, and Hindrances grant you more points. A “typical” character, assuming there is such a thing, would have d6 in all five attributes and in 6-8 skills, a couple of Edges, and probably three Hindrances. Derived attributes are Pace, Parry, and Charisma, which are calculated from the attributes and skills you purchased. Pace is your movement, Parry is how hard you are to hit in melee, and Charisma is a modifier to NPC reaction rolls.

Edges allow you to customise your character’s abilities so that (say) not all fighters are the same; hindrances are what shape the character’s motivations, and are generally the first thing other players or the GM remember about your PC.

The game uses few, but broad, skills. The Shooting skill, for example, covers everything from slings to starship blaster turrets; your shooter is assumed to be practiced with any ranged weapon the setting has available. Some like this approach, including me; some don’t. The rules also rely on the concept of “common knowledge”; local history, geography and key NPCs, for example, are common knowledge – any character can know about them with a Smarts roll, much like the GURPS Area Knowledge skill. Divisions within a skill are approximated by Edges like Trademark Weapon, which grants bonuses if you use a specific, nominated weapon.

The core rules assume that either all PCs are human, or that the GM will create appropriate other races. Published settings and the free download Wizards & Warriors provide more races if you want them – in fact, Wizards & Warriors is a good bridge from D&D to SW in general.

Characters earn experience points during play which can be used to improve skills or attributes, or to buy new skills, powers, or edges. Wounds or terror can permanently mark your PC with new hindrances, or reduce attributes.

Gear: This section follows the time-honoured RPG tradition of a heavy focus on weapons and armour, with items ranging from cured hides and spears to powered armour and lasers. Basic statistics plus a few special rules. These are the usual tools of the adventurer’s trade, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them. There is nothing in the way of magic items, but you can create them simply enough (“The magic sword is a longsword imbued with the Smite power.”)

Game Rules: To succeed at a task, you need to roll the target’s Parry score (when rolling to hit someone in melee), or the target’s Toughness (when trying to wound them), or a 4+ (for anything else). More experienced characters roll dice with more sides, giving them a better chance of success. If you beat the required roll by 4 or more (called a “raise”), you get a better result. Any die which rolls its maximum (an “ace”) allows you to keep that score, reroll the die, and add the new result to your total. PCs and major NPCs roll a d6 as well as the die for their skill or attribute when they roll; you can choose to use the result from the normal die, or the d6. PCs also start each session with three “bennies”. You can use a benny to reroll any one die, or to try to recover from wounds. PCs and major NPCs have 3 wounds, NPC “Extras” have one.

The combat system encourages swashbuckling and teamwork. You can attempt any number of actions per turn, although the more you try, the worse the penalties to your die rolls. Skills like Taunt and Intimidation, and tricks based on Smarts (“Look behind you!”) or Agility (throwing sand in faces) make it easier for you and your friends to damage enemies. I’ve noticed two big impacts in play here; first, characters besides the combat monsters can really make a difference in a fight by setting up enemies for their friends with tricks; and second, the very existence of tricks seems to encourage swashbuckling play – even players who would normally just stand around hacking at foes are running up girders, throwing ale kegs at opponents, jumping on the backs of monsters, and having a hell of a time.

There are no “hit points”; characters are “up” (fully functional, although PCs may have penalties from earlier wounds), “down” (laid on their sides to indicate Shaken status, which means they move at half speed and can’t attack), or off the table (incapacitated, dead, or otherwise out of the fight).

Arcane Backgrounds: This is where we start to see Trappings, one of the key philosophies of the game. Your spellcaster’s Bolt power can be a scorching ray of light, a conjured arrow, a swarm of enraged bees, the Finger of Death, or anything else – how you describe it varies, but the game effect does not. Likewise, your skaven, your goblins, your brigands can all have the same stats. you can do that in any game system, of course, but few rules sets embrace and encourage the concept as much as SW. There are five options for a character with supernatural powers: Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Super Powers and Weird Science – not every setting will use them all, and they each have their pros and cons, differing in the skills used to operate them, the number of powers initially known, and the effects of failure. However, they all use the same list of powers (read: spells).

Situational Rules: The core rules are aimed at up-close-and-personal skirmishes; the situational rules cover things like fire, drowning, vehicle operation, animal and vehicle combat, stock NPCs and riding animals, fear effects, fatigue, poison, mass battles, and so forth. I generally don’t need these in a typical scenario, but they do come in useful at times.

Game Mastering: This covers how to set up a SW campaign – concept, recruiting, the game night, campaign types and how to match them to players; running the game, focussing on the approach of minimising setup and prep time; awarding experience points and bennies; NPCs and allies; world creation and how to customise the rules for your killer campaign; creating or converting adventures. Note that one of the core assumptions of SW is that the GM offloads some work to the players by having them control some of the NPCs, whether or not their characters are in charge of those people.

Villains and Monsters: A range of old favourites. There are enough orcs, trolls, elementals, wild animals and undead provided to play pulp, horror or high fantasy right away, and SF too if you use Trappings on them; setting books offer more. Note that this is a game which deliberately does not have the Sorting Algorithm of Evil; your characters meet what they meet, and fights are not necessarily fair. (If you want encounters to be fair, set the opposition’s Toughness to be roughly equal to the PCs’ average damage roll, and count one PC as worth one Wild Card villain or two Extras.)

The Good: You can generate characters and a scenario in five minutes, dive in, and play; I’ve found I can convert and run any published adventure “on the fly”, with no preparation at all; and I found the Trappings concept very liberating once I got used to it. I carry a set of the rules (either hard copy or PDF) with me now at all times to take advantage of ad hoc gaming opportunities, say while travelling. With the complete rules costing $10, I found myself able to buy my players a couple of extra copies so we could all look things up at the same time – and it was still cheaper than just one D&D Player’s Handbook. Mind you, I’ve spent a fair amount on setting books and toolkits since.

The Bad: Considering one of the main design goals of the system is to minimise book-keeping, it puzzles me that power points are retained for spells. Something like the Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing system of failures and critical failures might work better – and indeed I think the Hellfrost setting has something like that; more on this if Hellfrost makes it onto my shelves. (I could make the same argument about money or ammo, but it’s very rare for those to be a big part of my games; more on that another time, perhaps.) It would also have been useful to have some guidance on how to balance encounters, but that is easily available on the Pinnacle internet forum.

Highly recommended; my default choice for every RPG situation because it is – as it says on the cover – Fast! Furious! Fun!

The Arioniad – Scenes 17-18

I start scene 17 by rolling on the Where To Next? Table (p. 31). A roll of 3 starting in a Lost World takes me again to a Lost World, and it’s easiest if it is the same one. The Available Transportation table on p. 32 and a die roll of 3 show that we’re travelling on foot; no surprise there. I now roll for an encounter; 1d6 vs 1: 6, so no encounter.

A brief montage of shots tracks Arion, Dmitri and Coriander as they follow what appears to be a game trail through the jungle, at length entering a small village of well-kept mid-tech houses (I’ll have no truck with the Noble Savages trope here, so imagine the neat bungalows and picket fences of the Dharma Initiative in Lost). Lost World inhabitants about their daily tasks pause briefly to stare at the newcomers, exchange nods with Coriander in complete silence, then return to their work.

This takes us to a Story Advancing Scene. I can’t remember what the rolls were last time, if any, and seem not to have recorded them in the blog, so reroll. Star Rep (4) + number of solved clues (3) + 1d6 (6) = 13. “Get info from someone.” Difficulty of finding the person is the lower of 2d6: 2, 3 so difficulty 2. There are no modifiers. I now roll 2d6 vs the Star’s Rep and the difficulty, respectively; Arion rolls 1, 4 and passes 2d6; the quarry rolls 1, 5 and passes 1d6. As Arion has beaten the quarry by 1d6 he finds the quarry, let’s say Coriander’s father, but suffers complications (-1d6) when questioning him.

Coriander and her father stand face to face, bow their heads, and commune wordlessly for a moment. Arion and Dmitri exchange looks.

The elder citizen turns to face Arion, speaking slowly as if unused to words. “So,” he says. “I am Baltasar. You assault my daughter, and yet she brings you here for help. You must be unusual men, Arion, Dmitri. Why do you seek the Eye of the Cat?”

Dmitri maintains a poker face and silence. Arion says, “Schrodinger wants the Eye. He is an unpleasant person, so no good can come of him having it. My friend and I plan to stop him getting it.”

“How is this your concern?”

“Someone has to stop him. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Baltasar laughs. “So, you have no idea what’s going on, or how you’re going to stop it, but you’re going to try anyway?”

“Yes. Can you help? Will you help?”

Arion may now take one opposed task challenge (p. 24) to see if he gets the info he needs. This depends on them having a common skill, so who is Coriander’s father? I roll 2d6 on the Ancient Civilisation table (p. 19), reasoning that she and her father should be on the same table. A roll of 10 means he, too, is a Citizen. Arion has First Aid, Melee, Piloting and Shooting. Running out of inspiration, I decide to roll randomly and get a 4, Shooting, so we assume that Baltasar has shooting too. Arion will roll 2d6; 2d6 for his skill, 1d6 for being Strong Willed in an opposed task, andf -1d6 for complications. The quarry is Rep 3, so will roll 3d6. Let’s see if I can weave a Shooting challenge into the story more entertainingly this time – we’ll assume an assault, success in the challenge will mean that Arion has helped defend the village well enough to earn Baltasar’s respect and co-operation.

All heads in the village suddenly snap round to the point where Arion and company came out of the jungle; a group of Gimirri warriors is jogging towards the conversation, long knives drawn, faces set.

“I think first you must help us,” says Baltasar. He gestures towards a nearby shed; the door flies open, and guns hurtle towards them through the air. Arion and Baltasar both grab one, and open fire on the Gimirri.

Arion now rolls 2d6 vs 3: 1, 6 = pass 1d6. Baltasar (the “task”) rolls 3d6 vs 3: 6, 6, 6 = pass 0d6. The dice are with Arion today; since only he has passing dice left, we go to the Task Test table on p.26 and learn that Arion successfully completes the task, thus gaining a fourth clue.

Shots ring out, and Arion drops one of the attackers. The rest melt into the jungle.

“They’ll be back,” Dmitri observes. Baltasar shrugs.

“They won’t find us again. Not unless Schrodinger comes personally.” He makes further gestures, returning the guns to the shed.

“Baltasar, what is going on please?” Baltasar strokes his chin thoughtfully, then comes to a decision.

“The Eye of the Cat allows its bearer to control the Dinobastis – you probably heard one of those thrashing around in the jungle earlier. We use it to keep them out of our village.”

“Why does Schrodinger want it, and how did he know it was here?”

“Schrodinger is an outcast from our Institute. He has a vision of a universe where the Institute controls humanity for its own purposes; he intends to start by seizing power among the Gimirri, whose totem is a giant cat. Once he appears with one at his back, the Council will be forced to grant him a seat by ancient tradition.”

“Wait, you guys are the Psionics Institute?”

“One of them,” Baltasar shrugs.

“You’re supposed to be a myth!”

“Well, we don’t get out much.”

There is a deep roar from the jungle beyond the village, and Dmitri interrupts. “Giant cat? How giant, exactly?”

“The ones around here are about ten metres long, and maybe a third of that is tail,” explains Baltasar. “In the deep jungle, they probably grow bigger than that.”

“We’re going to need bigger guns,” says Arion, quietly.

“No,” says Coriander. “They have as much right to live as you or I. We need the Eye of the Cat.”

“Where next, then?” asks Dmitri. “We can’t stay here.”

And all eyes turn to Arion.

So, I’d guess we’re about two-thirds of the way through the story now, since the protagonists have learned what’s going on – at least in enough detail for a pulp story. Lessons Learned: When designing a Star, one should pick at least one skill that can be used to interrogate or persuade contacts, because one spends nearly half one’s game time doing it – much more so than fighting, which I expected to be prominent. What is saving me currently is the Strong Willed advantage, which was a good choice in hindsight.

Review of Dogs of Hades by Savage Mojo

As I mentioned in my review of Savage Suzerain, I recently bought Dogs of Hades without realising it was a Savage Suzerain setting book; this isn’t clear from the cover or the RPGNow page, where I can see I need Savage Worlds for it, but not Savage Suzerain. That didn’t bother me, as Savage Suzerain was itself on my wishlist, but if it would bother you, you are now warned.

In a nutshell: Ancient Greeks in Spa-a-a-a-ce!

The book is divided into the standard sections for a Savage Worlds plot point setting…

  • For Players: A short player’s introduction explaining what you need to play, and a soundbite description of the setting – Greek epics meet Frank Herbert’s Dune. One page.
  • Athena’s Garden: History and cultures of the setting are painted with a broad brush in a couple of pages; my feeling is that we’re looking at a parallel universe analogous to Greece and the Mediterranean in about the 5th century BC. Except with Earthlike worlds (“Gardens”) replacing islands, and starships replacing biremes. And then the Imperium of Dune slathered over the top. Nothing wrong with that.
  • Characters: Character creation for this setting. About 18 pages. This covers the archetypes of the milieu, including the usual fighters and spies as well as Logicians, this setting’s answer to Mentats; characters’ cultural backgrounds; everyday life; new and modified skills, hindrances and edges. A departure from the normal RPG tropes here is that female characters are second-class citizens, rather than equal to their male counterparts; since my players are about 50/50 male and female, I might tweak that a bit. I always find a character’s hindrances more entertaining than the edges, and there are some nice new ones – Easily Distracted, for example, which forces you to draw two initiative cards and play the lower of them. The Fatal Beauty edge is also nice, allowing the character to Stun an opponent with his or her sheer good looks. Logicians (a variant of the Savage Suzerain Perfected “race”) have a nice pack of edges and powers all their own, balanced by not being much use outside of their speciality.
  • Realm Rules: Setting-specific rules. You have already layered Savage Suzerain over Savage Worlds to get this far, but there are some additional tweaks too; it is possible sometimes to Fatigue one’s opponent rather than Shaking them; groups of four or more characters working in formation get combat advantages; the specifics of divine aid and divine wrath for each of the gods (who are real in this setting, and can be influenced, although they get grumpy if you don’t keep your end of the bargain) – I particularly like that Dionysus gives you more help if you’re drunk. 6 pages.
  • Athens Gazetteer: The history, politics, geography, technology, military organisation and so forth of Athens, the capital world of the region and probable PC homeworld. This is a balkanised world, dotted with city-states of one or two million citizens each, constantly jostling for power and prestige. Glaring at the Athenian Hegemony (Athens and colonies on barbarian worlds) across a handful of buffer states is Sakalid space, the Sakalids being Athens’ main enemy in an extensive and bloody war some 30 years before the game starts, and (to my mind anyway) filling the role of the Persians in this version of Greek history. Athenian technology was granted to their ancestors by the gods, notably Athena, who saved and nurtured them after humanity’s near-destruction several thousand years before the game begins; in essence, they look like ancient Greek weapons, armour and so forth, but function like higher-tech equipment; force shields, energy lances and so on. The section ends with equipment lists. 22 pages.
  • For GMs: 6 pages. I was quite prepared to accept “These guys are ancient Greeks in space. Deal with it and get on with the game.” However, this section gives a deeper layer of explanatory backstory. I doubt I’m giving much away there, there is always something like that in the GM’s section.
  • Dogs of Hades and Savage Tales: A plot point campaign in ten “verses”, with 20 shorter scenarios, intended to take the characters from Novice to Heroic rank, after which Suzerain proper would cut in. It’s a suitably mythic tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge and seafood. No, seriously, seafood. Between them, these take up about 70 pages. I could get about a year’s worth of play out of them at one session per week, and longer at my current reduced pace.
  • Men and Monsters: NPC and creature statistics. 15 pages, include key NPCs for the PCs’ probable home city-state, generic NPCs, and nonhumans.
  • Maps: 10 pages of pretty maps, zooming in from interstellar to regional level.

So, reflections having read the game but not played it…

  • It’s a violent setting, and there is no magic healing to speak of. Somebody in the group better tool up with healing edges, and remember to pray to the healer god while using them.
  • Logicians are fun.
  • It could be run just as a Savage Worlds campaign, without bringing Suzerain into play at all; I’m very tempted to try that.

This one goes into the “play someday” pile rather than the “mine for ideas then discard” pile.